Reading & Speech Questions

Why is こう used to pronounce a hundred words? There are also a bunch of other sounds like せい that is used to pronounce a lot of words.

In English, no two words are spelled the same (with a few exceptions). But with Japanese, I see that こうis used to say think, behind, sunlight, and probably a hundred more. If I just say こう by itself, how would anyone know which specific word I’m trying to say? Is it a matter of context?

Thanks for any information!

Very few words are spelt the same in Japanese too, thanks to things being written in kanji.

Pronounced the same, though? There’s buckets and buckets of them.

Why all the homophones in Japanese? Because like all languages, it got pieced together bit by bit over time, and noone had the foresight to plan ahead to avoid ambiguities. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Not sure what you mean by that. You’re saying こう as a word could be that many things? Excluding suffixes and prefixes, there are not that many things that you would use in normal conversation with just こう as the pronunciation.

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Context is king. It’s the difference between talking about a light ray and a light load. Or maybe a flashlight, lighter, sunlight, moonlight, etc.

Pronounced yeah that’s what I meant :sweat_smile:

And makes sense! Thanks!

Homophones in Japanese often come up as a concern from people learning Japanese because it seems really intimidating. The good news is that most of the time context and word accent helps to narrow down which word is being said. Another thing people do is if there’s a different word that can be used to avoid misunderstanding (i.e., using a word based on native Japanese or borrowed Western word, as opposed to a kanji compound), they’ll use that word instead. As you get more exposure to the language, this will become less of an issue.

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Also keep in mind that while English has approx 24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds (depending on dialect), Japanese only has about 15 consonants sounds and 5 vowel sounds, so the variety of combinations is more limited.

(hopefully the facts I’m getting from Wikipedia are semi accurate!)

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I would add that technically there’s not really any combinations. I would say that their sounds are categorized based off of combinations of consonant and vowel sounds, but really there’s just a single set number of sounds. 15 consonant sounds and 5 vowel sounds could make WAY more combinations than what’s actually available in Japanese. Also, consonant-vowel combination isn’t one to one. Not being nitpicky, I just wanted to add that little bit of info.

You’ll get different counts based on the method of counting syllables, but I’ve read that English has 7,931 syllables while Japanese has only 416. (from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2976547 Their source was a journal article that I can’t easily get access to)

(On to the main topic:)
Yes there are a ton of homophones and specifically because of this. Relating to what Leebo
said; Make sure, though, that you’re not mistaking the readings of kanji for actual words you can use. Some of them can, but I’m slightly sure that a majority of them can’t.

Now the reason that are a ton of kanji with こう as a pronunciation is because of how those sounds were imported from China a long time ago. The original Chinese sounds that they come from are actually mostly distinct from each other, but they had to be simplified in order to become compatible with Japanese’s much simpler phonetic system. This happened to many different kanji.

By the way, (if you didn’t already know) these readings of Chinese origin are called the On’yomi (音読み) of a kanji while the Japanese reading is the kun’yomi (訓読み) and it’s pretty important to internalize what those are. But basically on’yomi are usually only used in kanji compounds while kun’yomi will be single words that will likely include attached hiragana. (Usually, not always.)

My own related question, now: Is there a name for Kanji that share on’yomi readings?

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While English is nothing like Japanese in this regard, it’s worth keeping in mind that English does have its fair share of homophones and homonyms.

Homonyms (look the same when read, as well as sounding the same when spoken)

  • Have you ever seen a crane that would crane its neck while operating a crane?

  • If you say you’ve eaten a date while on a date, you may be dating yourself.

  • Our group at work was engaged after our boss got engaged.

  • If you want to play in the fallen leaves, you’d best wait until the gardener leaves.

  • Being nice to the fishermen could net you a free net.

  • You may have a point that it’s not nice to point with objects having a sharp point.

  • If I’m right, the door on the right leads to the document enumerating my rights.

Homophones (sound the same when spoken)

  • I ate eight pieces.

  • That band was banned.

  • I was stranded because I spent my bus fare at the fair.

  • I read the red book.

  • Can you see the sea?

  • (and so many more)

Granted, none of this is like Japanese where every kanji and its cousin (こうsin?) is pronounced こう. But you can see that spelling (for homophones) and context (for homonyms) is very much common in English as well as Japanese.

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This one is especially good. “Dating” in this context could mean either “in a romantic relationship” or “revealing one’s age.”

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